Best-selling author shares her personal story with Yankee Hill students

A best-selling author of books aimed at teenagers visited Yankee Hill Education Center last week and shared her personal story - one that did not seem destined for a happy ending when she herself was a teenager.

“I wasn’t supposed to have this life. Any of my teachers would have said, ‘Uh uh, not her,’” said Laurie Halse Anderson. She was speaking to a group of students on Friday who recently read her most well-known book, “Speak,” which has sold more than four million copies, been translated into 28 languages and turned into a movie.

Anderson was among a group of children’s and young-adult authors who spoke to classes throughout Lincoln Public Schools on Thursday and Friday in advance of their appearance at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival, held last weekend at Concordia University in Seward.

At Yankee Hill, Anderson told students how she struggled with school for many years while growing up in western New York. “I had a hard time learning how to read but I had some great public school teachers who pushed me and taught me how to read, how to write,” she said.

By high school, Anderson had lost interest in her education. She didn’t study and often chose to sleep during class. A physical education teacher pushed her to go out for sports and the structure that brought to her life had a positive influence on her work in the classroom. After high school, she worked on a dairy farm before enrolling in community college, where she found a renewed motivation to learn.

She went on to graduate from Georgetown University, then worked as a newspaper reporter and eventually found her way to fiction writing. She found the inspiration for “Speak,” her first novel, from a nightmare she had. “I woke up and all I could remember was a girl who was crying,” Anderson said. “Something bad had happened to her and I started writing to figure out what it was.”

Published in 1999, “Speak” tells the story of a ninth-grade girl who experiences a traumatic event and, unable to verbalize what happened, nearly stops speaking altogether. A teacher encourages her to express herself through art, which helps her process what happened and move forward.

Anderson estimates she’s talked to more than one million teenagers about “Speak” and her other books. For the students, it’s inspiring. For Anderson, it’s educational.

“If I’ve learned anything about life in the last 20 years, it was from teenagers.”

The program at Yankee Hill Education Center is designed for high school students who require more structure and support systems to succeed. The same program is used at the Don Sherrill Education Center for elementary students and at the Nuernberger Education Center for those in middle school. Each education center’s ultimate goal is for students to return to their home schools.


Published: October 8, 2018, Updated: October 8, 2018

"I had a hard time learning how to read but I had some great public school teachers who pushed me and taught me how to read, how to write."

Author Laurie Halse Anderson